How can you be happy with your own body in an environment of perfection? Self-compassion is the answer, according to Buddhist and professor of psychology Kristin Neff: the ability to be kind and mild to yourself.
Does self-compassion start with the realization that we are all imperfect?
“The misconception is that ‘normal’ is the same thing as ‘perfect’. If there is something about us that we don’t like, something that’s not beautiful, we usually compare it to our image of what is normal. And that means: healthy, fit, slim, beautiful. Consciously or unconsciously, we believe that we are abnormal when something is wrong in that department. It is this feeling that makes you feel isolated and separate from others. It aggravates the discomfort you already feel because you don’t feel good about yourself.
Self-compassion is good for you in many ways. It’s good for your self-image and for the way you deal with your body. People with self-compassion look after themselves better, they exercise more and eat better. As it turns out, self-compassion has a positive effect on all sorts of neurological systems in the body, such as the production of oxytocin, also called the love hormone, the one that makes you feel good. It also helps alleviate chronic pain. A recent study showed that even the immune system shows a positive reaction to self-compassion.”
If you think you’re fat, for example, does self-compassion begin with acknowledging that it bothers you?
“Yes, that’s the start. Struggling against unwanted feelings only makes them stronger. But self-compassion is also about relieving unwanted feelings, so that takes it one step further than merely acknowledging them. It’s a strong need to look after yourself and to do what you can to alleviate your discomfort. Suppose you really are overweight, then you literally make life heavier for yourself.
Through self-compassion, you will do everything you can to become healthier and to lose weight, so you’ll be less of an impediment to yourself. Instead of telling yourself: ‘I am so fat, I am useless, I really must use weight…’ you say to yourself: ‘I would like to lose weight, because now I am not healthy, and I want to do something good for myself.’
It makes the motivation to change stronger: a sense of caring about yourself makes losing weight a greater success than when you scold yourself. You are less worried about failing and you will last longer. In other words, it’s a mistake to think that self-compassion means sitting back and not working on yourself anymore.”
Text: Lisette Thooft - Photo: Jared Weiss